LOCAL NEWS

Woman buys home only to find it taken over by squatters who forged documents

Mar 2, 2022, 9:49 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 9:48 pm

WEST BOUNTIFUL, Utah — When Heidi Shippen bought a West Bountiful house as a rental property she promised the former homeowner she would find good renters, that the neighbors would like. But after closing on the house, she and her husband went on a 10-day trip to Florida.

On Tuesday they stopped by the house to meet with a painter who was going to do some touch-ups before she listed it. That’s when things got weird, in a hurry.

“(We) found a couple of cars in the driveway,” which seemed strange to Shippen. “We thought that’s kind of odd that somebody would park in the driveway. We haven’t been here for a couple of weeks. We just assumed it was neighbors needing an extra place to park.”

She found out in a hurry it wasn’t neighbors. She heard dogs barking in her backyard, then movement in her garage.

“She said, ‘I live here,’” a voice yelled out from the garage. “I said, ‘You don’t live here — this is my house. Who are you?’”

It was squatters — a group of five people, including a newborn baby, who had watched for the house to sell, forged a bogus contract, changed the locks and moved in.

“The story just kept getting crazier and crazier and crazier, so we called police,” who initially told Shippen they couldn’t help.

Generally speaking, squatters cases are civil cases, which means you have to start a case, get an attorney and file a formal complaint. The process can take months — all while the squatters live in your house, free of charge.

So Shippen and her husband went to West Bountiful City Hall where they found out the mastermind behind the scam had started the process in mid-February. And, he had forged Shippen’s name on legal documents. The crime was enough for police to serve a search warrant. It didn’t go smoothly… with officers ultimately kicking in the door and arresting three men. A woman and her newborn baby were allowed to go to a police-provided hotel for the night.

“During this investigation, documents were produced and we ended up seeking search warrants for the house and ended up removing the people that were living inside,” a police officer said.

It was an emotional night for Shippen.

“I started to cry, for lots of reasons,” Shippen said, adding it was sad to watch a new mother with a crying newborn get kicked out of a home, regardless of the circumstances. She’s also mad.

“They’ve been doing this for several weeks,” Shippen said. “They’ve been planning this and strategizing, and figuring out how to do this. I was out of town for 10 days, so I didn’t know this was going on.”

But the accused squatters did. And she said she’s going to be a lot more aware from here on out and hopes others will too.

“We’ve just got to watch out for each other. If you see something weird, tell somebody.”

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Woman buys home only to find it taken over by squatters who forged documents